By TIM BULLARD
MYRTLE BEACH — The third annual Hispanic health issues conference, held last week at the Crown Reef Resort, was a place where educators, medical professionals and speakers networked, sharing information and updates on the cutting edge of outreach.
The Pee Dee Task Force on Migrant Advocacy sponsored the event. The group was formed in 1996 by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston as a response to the need for a collaboration of services for the many seasonal farm workers employed throughout the state.
Task Force members also serve on Gov. Jim Hodges’ Hispanic/Latino Ad Hoc Committee to identify community needs and concerns.
According to statistics from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the Latino population in South Carolina has grown by 78 percent in the last 10 years, with the Upstate and coastal regions housing the largest segment. By 2009, the Hispanic population is expected to climb to 102,000.
Nine out of 10 new immigrants to the state are from Mexico and primarily speak Spanish, according to DHEC. Nine out of 10 immigrants also lack health insurance, and three out of seven family members need health care.
Presenters at the Feb. 28 to March 1 conference, themed “Eliminating Health Disparities Through the Life Cycle,” included Rebecca Maria Barrera of the National Latino Children’s Institute in Austin, Texas; Adolfo Mata of the Health Resources and Services Administrations in Bethesda, Md.; Rafael Guerrero of East Coast Migrant Head Start in Washington, D.C.; and Ana Lopez-De Fede, a research associate professor with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Institute for Families in Society.
Sumter native Marshall Tobias, an investigator for the National Office of Civil Rights in Atlanta, Ga., reminded health care administrators about the need for language interpreters and the legal threat for those who fail to provide them.
“They have all been very cooperative,” Tobias said. “We are trying to develop statewide policies and procedures to ensure that persons who do not speak English well have interpreters and have access to the programs.”
He said the Department of Social Services and hospitals and medical centers are very important to people who do not speak English well, therefore the need for interpreters.
“Many of them are denied services, and many of them are unable to communicate and unable to explain what they need. If they don’t have interpreters, you really can’t tell what it is they need, and you don’t know how to process their cases.”
Genova McFadden of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Migrant Health Program attended as a member of the Task Force as did Fred D. Hobby, chief diversity officer of the Greenville Hospital System.
The conference is already making an impact on medical professionals as shown by the collaboration between Little River Medical Center and Pee Dee health care providers.
Pamela Davis is the center’s executive director and attended last year’s conference. This year bilingual outreach worker Elise Torres came to the event.
Torres said outreach workers go out into the community and conduct education on the importance of physician care. They are also trained to assess patients for Medicaid.
“We forward them (the applications) up to the state office for processing, so we can get a quick turnaround on them,” she said.
Last year Little River Medical Center provided health care clinics in the early evening for Hispanic families, and the program will begin again in May for 25 weeks with assistance from Loris Community Hospital and the Loris Health Department.
Another speaker, Edena Meetze, a DHEC health education specialist, talked about AIDS. She is developing the Palmetto Health District’s first HIV education and prevention outreach to Hispanics in the Midlands.
And Michael Jernigan, president and CEO of Select Health of South Carolina, talked about S.C. Medicaid managed care.
Other sponsors for the health conference included Care Line, Catholic Charities, DHEC’s Office of Minority Health, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hispanic Connections Inc. of Columbia, the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the S.C. Migrant Health Program.